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Say what you will about French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, but the guy’s got two things going for him: Mr Kouchner then requested that the UN be given access to the civilians trapped with the Tigers. When the Defence Secretary responded that it was not safe for anyone to enter the area, Mr Kouchner volunteered to go himself. “A smiling Rajapaksa told the French Foreign Minister that the LTTE was so desperate that he, too, would be taken hostage,” the report said. “I don’t mind that risk,” said Mr Kouchner, who co-founded the medical aid agency, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors […]

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Gotta say this about the Chinese: They learn from past mistakes quickly. In 2003, they were largely opaque about SARS and blocked WHO aid to Taiwan. In 2008, they were already much more transparent about the Sichuan earthquake. Today, in the face of the swine flu scare, they’re signaling openness to Taiwanese participation in an upcoming WHO governing assembly. That reflects improvements in cross-straits relations over the past year. But it also demonstrates a steep learning curve in terms of public diplomacy.

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First thing I thought after catching John Woo’s new mega-period epic, Red Cliff, this weekend was, I wonder why I haven’t read any clever blog reviews discussing the film’s obvious subtext on America’s recent military adventurism yet. A few google searches later and I learned that the film not only hasn’t yet been released Stateside, it’s got no U.S. distributor. That, folks, is crazy. Either someone in Hollywood is really stupid, or someone in China is really greedy. (With regard to this movie, I mean.) To put it very simply, this is a great martial arts war flick, with a […]

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I didn’t plan to write three China posts today, in case you’re wondering. And I also didn’t plan the title tie-ins. Go figure. Anyway, I thought I’d flag two Times of India items I came across yesterday. First, Vietnam will be purchasing six Russian subs. Second, India has reportedly decided to exclude China from this year’s Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. In case you’re wondering what Vietnam needs six subs for, or why India might be feeling a bit edgy, go read Richard Weitz’ WPR column on China’s naval buildup. In addition to the prestige factor that comes of parading the […]

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As I mentioned in the previous post, China’s hole card is its cash reserves. And as this NY Times article on China’s dealmaking in South America makes clear, in a time of global economic distress, that’s still a pretty sweet hole card: In recent weeks, China has been negotiating deals to double adevelopment fund in Venezuela to $12 billion, lend Ecuador at least $1billion to build a hydroelectricplant, provide Argentina with access to more than $10 billion inChinese currency and lend Brazil’s national oil company $10 billion.The deals largely focus on China locking in natural resources like oilfor years to […]

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Looking for a respite from the “China’s Rise” trope? You could start with this post by Chris Devonshire-Ellis at 2point6billion.com comparing China’s statism to India’s chaotic democracy: Elsewhere, China’s issues appear to stem from the difficulties thecountry now faces in managing itself as a one-party state. Make nomistake, this is not an easy thing to do . . . [T]o remain benign [and]committed to development, economic progress and integration with theglobal community while utilizing such a system has never been attemptedbefore. People forget; while China may appear to have been stable overthe past three decades, the Chinese social experiment still […]

The Chinese Navy held a birthday party last week, and everybody came. Military observers from around the world attended the April 23 celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), held at the northern port city of Qingdao. The Chinese government put on a lavish display, showcasing 25 warships — ranging from nuclear submarines to a modern amphibious assault craft to an enormous hospital ship — along with 31 naval aircraft. Twenty-one ships from 14 foreign navies also joined the parade. The four-day commemoration included seminars on maritime security issues, a sampan race, and an at-sea […]

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This hasn’t been a particularly good week for anyone concerned by the creeping militarization of foreign policy in general, and development aid in particular. When President Barack Obama announced his Afghanistan strategy last month, a lot was made about the “diplomatic surge” element — roughly a thousand civilian posts to boost development work in the country. I remember thinking at the time that an increase of 1,000 civilians didn’t stack up so well with the increase of 21,000 troops that was announced at roughly the same time. But at least it was a start. Only trouble is, the NY Times […]

Few took issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bold assertion on Wednesday that the Pakistan-based Taliban pose a “mortal threat” to the United States. The stakes, of course, are high. The Taliban provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks, and could very well be doing so now. Since fleeing Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion in 2001, they have mounted stubborn insurgencies on both sides of the border that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan’s tribal areas, and have now established footholds in formerly secure parts of Pakistan. The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed power makes […]

As an IMF note to the G-20 leaders gathered at the recent London summit put it, “Growth also plunged across a broad swath of emerging economies. Against this backdrop, global activity is expected to contract in 2009 for the first time in 60 years.” In 1998, the Asian financial crisis left a lasting mark on politics in Southeast Asia. The Suharto regime fell in Indonesia and, arguably, ongoing turmoil in Malaysia and Thailand can be traced to the impact of ’98. However, this time around, the region is expected to come through the current recession relatively unscathed, in comparison with […]

Several analysts have noted that China is leveraging the global financial crisis to increase its economic clout — for example, by going on a commodities “shopping spree,” contributing $40 billion to the International Monetary Fund at the G-20 summit, and pushing for a greater voice in reforming international economic institutions. Recent developments, however, suggest that it is going further. China is using the crisis to step back and consider how it can rise in a more sustainable manner. That move is borne not only of its desire to be a world power, but also of its recognition that its strategy […]

NEW DELHI — A shift in India’s strategic defense thinking has become increasingly apparent over the months following the Mumbai terror attack in November. Before the Mumbai attacks, India’s military infrastructure was predominantly oriented to building against a long-term threat from China, aided by some plodding from a U.S. keen to counter Beijing’s rise in the region. Post-11/26, however, there is every sign that India’s defense preparedness is more focused on the immediate threat from Pakistan. India’s massive $50 billion defense modernization plans are being tweaked accordingly. Indian intelligence agencies have warned that a conflict situation with Pakistan could arise […]

The biggest electoral show on earth is now under way in India. But despite India’s reputation as a growing power on the international stage, foreign policy is set to play at most a marginal role in the decisions of most of its estimated 714 million voters. “I think foreign policy comes up mostly for the English-speaking urban elite and for the television audiences,” says Lawrence Prabhakar, associate professor of political science at Madras Christian College. “But for India’s hinterland, particularly the rural areas, there’s no debate at all on foreign policy. . . . By and large 90 percent of […]

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Swat Valley area used to be known for its lush trees, towering mountains and flowing water gushing through the valley from the glaciers above. Swat was for lovers — young honeymoon couples beginning a new life, families enamored of nature’s display of bounty. An area where you could buy handmade crafts direct from artisans’ humble studios, sipping tea in the shade as apprentices wrapped up your purchases. Yet as 2008 passed into 2009 the trickle of stories coming out of the area concerning public floggings, school bombings, beheaded police officers and political assassinations turned into a […]

The tiny desert town of Abeche, in eastern Chad, offers a curious sight: Sandwiched between the mud huts that most people call home and the compounds belonging to international aid workers is a humble Chinese restaurant catering to Chad’s growing population of Chinese engineers and managers. Significantly, no equivalent American-style restaurant is to be found. The same holds true across the resource-rich, institution-poor developing world, in countries as remote as East Timor and as dangerous as Somalia. While much of the military establishment in Washington continues to plan for a possible conventional war with China, Beijing is studiously avoiding a […]

As the world economy stares down the most severe crisis it has seen in nearly a century, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) finds itself positioned somewhere between danger and opportunity: Danger lurks in emergent alternatives to the fund; opportunity lies in reform. Yet, reform requires change, and change does not come easily in the realm of international politics. Invariably, it creates winners and losers. The United States and Europe have long been the beneficiaries of the international financial institutions crafted during the waning hours of World War II. But the world of today is a far cry from that of […]

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The current global financial crisis is unique in that, unlike most previous crises — which started in the periphery of the world economy, and whose deep and long-lasting impacts were limited to isolated parts of the globe — today’s crisis is rooted in Wall Street, at the heart of the globalized market, from where it has grown and spread worldwide. As a result, powerful, globalized economies have taken the first and hardest punches. Although still a bit groggy, they are now struggling to get back on their feet. But while economists discuss how and when economies will emerge from this […]

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